Two Faces of High-Seas Crime

Discussion in 'Defence & Strategic Issues' started by nandu, Jul 19, 2010.

  1. nandu

    nandu Senior Member Senior Member

    Oct 5, 2009
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    Two Faces of High-Seas Crime

    By Lieutenant Commander Akash Chaturvedi, Indian Navy

    Maritime piracy and maritime terrorism must be tackled with a unified effort.

    Piracy off Somalia and the Horn of Africa is again the focus of attention due to a steep increase in the frequency of attacks that have grown more violent and aggressive. These attacks have shifted to the high seas, even beyond the established naval patrol corridor in the Gulf of Aden. In 2009, piracy in this region has gone up by 126 percent.1 This increase has occurred despite a host of measures, including the passage of four resolutions by the United Nations in 2008, the deployment of multinational naval forces by more than a dozen countries, improvements in reporting systems of merchantmen, and establishing of a safety corridor for transit of merchant ships.2

    And in a trouble spot such as Somalia, where terrorism and piracy flourish concomitantly, the symbiosis between the two is cause for concern. The world today faces a dual threat of global terrorism and maritime piracy, and yet, surprisingly, these are still being dealt with as separate and distinct problems. A 9/11-style attack at sea cannot be ruled out if terrorism and piracy are not addressed together in this region. Piracy not only poses a threat to global commerce and human safety at sea, but also encourages the use of sea routes for the spread of terrorism. Because piracy can be used as a complementary form of terrorism, the international community needs to attack both issues in a unified effort at their roots in Somalia and extend the global war on terrorism to this region.
    Piracy, Terrorism: Same Coin, Different Sides?

    Terrorism at sea needs to be accepted and addressed as a problem intertwined with piracy. Contrary to the belief that pirates operate with the sole objective of financial gain, many of today's pirates, like terrorists, have an ideological mindset and a broad political agenda.3 Meanwhile, many terrorist organizations have sought to develop maritime capabilities so they can exploit the sea to further spread terrorism. Terrorist groups known to operate at sea using pirates' techniques are:

    * the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam-Sri Lankan separatists also known as the Tamil Tigers
    * the Palestine Liberation Organization
    * the Free Aceh movement-Sumatran separatists
    * the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, Moro Liberation Front-related Filipino militant Islamic groups
    * Jemaah Islamiyah-Southeast Asian militant Islamic group
    * al Qaeda
    * Hezbollah.4

    Similarities exist between piracy and terrorism, namely their methods of deployment and targeting, with both groups threatening life and economic activities at sea or in ports. According to Stephanie Hanson, who writes on African issues for the Council on Foreign Relations, there are two key areas in which piracy and terrorism overlap. The first is legal, wherein both groups, being non-state actors, divorce themselves from their nation-states and form extraterritorial enclaves. They conduct acts of homicide and destruction against civilians for private ends. The second area of overlap is financial, with pirates known to fund Islamic terrorist organizations in Somalia and Indonesia.5

    Obviously, there are differences as well. In their purest forms, piracy and terrorism have divergent motives and (because their motives differ) each pursuit has a different attitude toward publicity. Piracy is mostly undertaken for financial reasons, terrorism for political or religious reasons; whereas pirates prefer to avoid publicity and use violence as a last resort, maritime terrorists typically aim for maximum publicity and violence.6

    But the world they mutually inhabit fosters a blurring of the lines. The sources of piracy and terrorism are getting more entangled. Especially within Somalia, links exist between pirates and terrorist groups; in addition to being a bustling pirates' nest, Somalia is one of the three main theaters for al Qaeda's mujahideen, along with Iraq and Afghanistan, according to al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri.7 Modern-day pirate waters—the Gulf of Aden, the Arabian Sea, the Indian Ocean, and the South China Sea—have become lucrative realms for exploitation by terrorist organizations as well. Using pirate tactics, they seek to extend their jihad to sea.8

    Today's pirates are trained fighters, violent and aggressive, taking to the high seas in mother ships and speedboats. Their use of satellite phones, GPS, AK-47s, anti-tank missiles, and rocket-propelled grenades hints at shared training with terrorists. With bank accounts frozen as part of the anti-terror crackdown, major terrorist groups are feeling the financial crunch and learning to rely on alternate funding sources: They're either engaging in acts of piracy themselves or outsourcing hijacking jobs to pirates.9 In addition to fund-raising, the rogues' alliance extends to gun-running as well. The Somalian Islamist insurgency group al Shabaab is now working with pirates and local warlords to smuggle arms and ammunition.10 In the face of massive international efforts arrayed against them, pirates and terrorists have joined hands.

    With 80 percent of the world's trade cargo and 60 percent of the world's oil and gas traversing the oceanic highways, it is little wonder that terrorists regard the sea as "the next strategic step towards ruling the world . . . a strategic point to expel the enemy from the most important pillars of its battle."11 Al Qaeda has undergone maritime-terrorism training with Sri Lanka's Tamil Tigers, and al Qaeda strategist Al-Suri writes about carrying out attacks in the Straits of Hormuz and at Bar el-Mandeb by scuttling ships at choke points.12 In addition, al Qaeda has been closely monitoring the success of the Somali pirates and showing appreciation of the pirates' achievements on al Qaeda Web sites.
    Somali Terror Triangle

    Somalia is the unfortunate center of a "terror triangle," a three-part recipe consisting of a failed state, piracy, and terrorism. As a failed and ungoverned state since 1991, Somalia poses a threat to international security with a host of associated problems. Lawlessness in Somalia has affected the entire region and created problems such as arms flow and other black markets, an environmental threat with toxic waste dumping along the coastline, illegal immigrants, illegal fishing, and, of course, piracy. Piracy off the Horn of Africa accounts for 48 percent of the total number of attacks reported in 2009.


    Somalia's terrorist element, meanwhile, includes such radical movements as the Union of Islamic Courts, al Ittihad al Islamiyya, and al Shabaab, which share parallel jihadist ideologies, have links with al Qaeda, and are known to provide assistance to transnational Islamic terrorists. Having lost reliable bases elsewhere due to the global war on terror, al Qaeda has used Somalia not only as a transit or entry port for a safe haven, but also as a base from which to spread terrorism.14

    The implications for international security are serious, particularly in the maritime context. Somalia offers an ideal opportunity for al Qaeda and related terrorist groups to pool resources with pirates. As these existing links become stronger, al Qaeda, using pirates' expertise and training, could increasingly extend terrorism to the sea, generate money, and strengthen into a pirate-warlord confederacy. Somalia-based extremists coordinating their schemes with Somalia-based pirates pose the greatest maritime terror challenge in the near future.
    An Emerging, Unified Definition

    While the debate about the relative similarities and differences between piracy and terrorism is ongoing, a comprehensive definition is needed for the areas in which they indeed do overlap-in short, a definition of maritime terrorism: Any act of piracy or terrorism undertaken in territorial waters or high seas for personal, financial or political motive against military or civilian targets by non-state actors. It also includes acts of piracy conducted with the motive of passing the monetary benefits to support terrorist organizations.

    Operating within a maritime-terrorism context would improve both counter-terrorism and counter-piracy actions by preventing any breach of sovereignty, ensuring concerted efforts, and providing more clear-cut legal parameters.

    The implications of resolving maritime terrorism and piracy off the coast of Somalia and throughout the world involves a multi-directional approach that begins with addressing the problems on land. Such an approach entails monitoring and surveillance of Somalia as part of the global war on terrorism, with emphasis on beaches, ports, and cross-border smuggling points.15 It may even require landing an international-coalition military force ashore in those regions that foster piracy. Parallel initiatives already being undertaken by international naval forces need to continue along with these land efforts to eradicate piracy. The aim must be to ensure that the piracy-terrorism link is not strengthened, and that it does not become a platform for terrorists in the immediate future.

    Post-9/11, the international community has been faced with many new challenges, prominent among them being failed states, terrorism, and piracy. Though the efforts are on to curb these problems, they have not been synchronized. It should be understood that piracy and terrorism are no longer two different problems and need to be addressed together by accepting this merger and legally defining it as maritime terrorism. So far, despite increased efforts, the international community has not been successful in controlling or eradicating either menace. Left unchecked, pirates and terrorists increasingly will pool their resources and terror groups will hire local pirates for financial gain and to buttress their jihad's maritime element.16 Whatever the motivation for this merger-ideology, poverty, criminality, or all of the above-the nexus of piracy and terrorism will be dangerous for both the world economy and security.

    When addressing the alarming rise in piracy off Somalia, we must not overlook the emerging alliance between piracy and terrorism. To win the battles against piracy and terrorism, they need to be perceived as one battle; they need to be resolved with a unified effort, extending the global war on terrorism to include a war on maritime terrorism, with Somalia as its focal point, to prevent another 9/11-this time at sea.

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